In 1975 when J. C. Raulston came to NC State University’s Department of Horticulture, he knew the industry could not grow if every nurseryman in the state was choosing from the same palette of 40 or so plants. He made it his mission to increase the diversity of the American landscape and continued proselytizing for the next 20 years until his untimely death.
In the 35 years since he started what is now known as the JC Raulston Arboretum at NC State University (JCRA), the plants, grounds, and mission of the JCRA has grown into something even bigger than J. C. himself could have imagined.
Over the years, the Arboretum has inspired thousands of students who occupy all niches of the green industry from research to propagation, landscaping, and design. The JCRA serves as a living laboratory supplementing NC State courses and research in the Horticulture, Entomology, Forestry, Agricultural Engineering, Landscape Architecture, and Plant Biology departments as well as providing a resource for researchers and growers around the world. It also serves students as a place to relax away from the hustle and bustle of campus, especially with the recent extension of the university’s Wi-Fi system to the JCRA.
Although the Arboretum is first and foremost meant to serve the needs of the students and provide extension to the NC green industry, it has become an integral part of the city of Raleigh and the Piedmont of North Carolina.
Visitors enjoy the tranquil, child-safe setting while learning about new plants they can try in their own backyards. Tours, lectures, symposia, newsletters, and e-updates supplement the experience. While the JCRA is free to the public, it is not free to operate and maintain. The Friends of the Arboretum memberships and private gifts are vital for the daily operations and growth. A popular member benefit is the Annual Plant Distribution in October, where several thousand plants are given away free to members.
The JCRA continues to look for ways to serve the local and international community. A children’s program kicked off in 2010 geared towards getting kids excited about horticulture and understanding the natural world. Another initiative is to make the JCRA more accessible. Now the path bisecting the Arboretum has been made accessible as has the Japanese, Xeric and Scree gardens. Accessible paths are currently being installed at the newly rebuilt Lath House. A seed exchange program with botanical institutions around the globe started in 2011, and helps gardens and universities develop their collections and obtain material for research.
The JCRA has over 5,000 different taxa (types of plants) in its collection, houses a national redbud (Cercis) collection, has expanded 25% in size, and has introduced dozens of plants to the industry. As the scope of the Arboretum expands, watch how the JCRA grows in the next 35 years.
Mark Weathington is the Assistant Director and Curator of Collections at the JC Raulston Arboretum. You may reach him at email@example.com.